It’s hard to believe that we’ve been in Jolly Harbour for a month now. The days have really flown by in a blur.
As I mentioned in my last “virus post,” the islands of the eastern Caribbean responded to the COVID 19 threat in a patchwork fashion, which is not unexpected given they are independent nations. Many of them are still struggling to recover from devastating losses thanks to recent hurricanes, and none of them are wealthy. Therefore, prevention of transmission is essential.
Virtually every island spanning from Bermuda to Curacao has closed its borders, some even to their own nationals abroad. The French islands (Guadaloupe, Martinique, and French St. Martin) are still allowing French and EU nationals in, and the USVI is still allowing US citizens in. Most islands have restricted cruisers’ movements between ports or anchorages. Some islands are actively ejecting foreign-flagged vessels or crew, and this means that cruisers are quite literally set adrift as they have nowhere to go.
Antigua welcomed cruisers far longer than most other islands but eventually closed its border as well. It enacted what we consider to be rational, comprehensive measures to combat virus transmission. We are under a 24 hour curfew but can come ashore to provision necessities such as food, water, and fuel between 7AM and 12 PM every day.
Social distancing is a mantra, and it is mandatory to wear a mask in public, including in your dinghy or car. No more than two people can be in one dinghy or car. Children under the age of 18 essentially aren’t allowed in public. If you want to change anchorages, you have to get prior approval from the Antiguan Coast Guard.
The restrictions were just relaxed two days ago to allow people outside to exercise during 7AM and 12 PM. You cannot have more than two people together, and you must put your mask back on once exercise is complete. It has been absolutely glorious being able to get off the boat and walk for the first time in three weeks.
It has been interesting to see how small business owners have changed their business models to stay solvent. “Social” businesses such as restaurants were the first to be ordered closed, and within a couple of weeks they had started offering limited take-away menu items; today we picked up pizza and focaccia bread from an Italian restaurant. Vegetable dealers are delivering orders to the dinghy dock or setting up vending stands across the street. French bakeries (many of whom normally service restaurants) now deliver breads, quiches, and pies to the dinghy dock as well. It brings some welcome variety to us and some welcome cash to them.
The cruisers here in Jolly Harbour have banded together to care for one another. There is a longstanding morning net at 9AM where we all listen to VHF 74 for the weather, any announcements, and any comments or requests for help. We are a tribe of different nationalities here in Jolly-Spanish, British, French, Canadian, German, American, Swiss, Norwegian, Swedish, Croatian-who all share a bond that transcends borders. One boat made fabric masks to give out, and another boat’s crew does shopping for those older cruisers who are in the vulnerable population. We have a robust Facebook page and “meet” nightly on the VHF to socialize for happy hour.
Cruisers are uniquely well-positioned to self-isolate, live off of stored provisions, and care for ourselves. The worst part of it for the Captain and I has been knowing that there’s a whole beautiful island to explore, and we can’t. Other than that, we really have no complaints.
The one pressure we are feeling is the approach of hurricane season. We had planned on spending hurricane season in Grenada and Trinidad, but they are both currently closed. There is always the possibility within the next few weeks that they could open. We cannot wait in Antigua indefinitely, so we have been making a variety of contingency plans.
Our preference is to head to Grenada if it opens by our drop-dead date. If it doesn’t, then we are seriously considering heading straight to Panama, which is entirely outside of the hurricane belt. It would be a 1200 nm nonstop trip that would take about two weeks. Panama is still open to foreign vessels, although a (very reasonable) two-week quarantine aboard your vessel is required before you can clear in. Panama was on the agenda for early next year, so it just means pushing it up the itinerary. The bummer would be missing the rest of the eastern Caribbean islands, at least for now.
In the interim, we continue to enjoy Antigua, marveling that we are able to ride out a world event like this in a beautiful, friendly, positive place. We are grateful to have been so lucky.